Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Day 8: Working from home

The problem with working from home is that, well, you're working from home.
In many ways this is brilliant, because it means that you can organise your own day and your own routine. You don't have to pack your own lunch or rely on canteen filter coffee, or that someone hasn't taken your milk from the fridge. You can have music on, talk to yourself, and generally just get on with things.
But (and this is something I don't think you should forget) you are not at work. This is not your office.

I don't want to really lay down the law here because everyone works in a slightly different way, but unless you're going to treat your workspace like it's a sacrosanct workspace, there are going to be distractions, whether that's flatmates, spouses, children, parents, animals, etc. How do you let people with whom you share your living space know, without being tetchy, that this is basically your workspace? How do you let the dogs know that you can't walk them right now because you're in the middle of reading an article by Habermas? Being rigid about these things isn't going to end well. And after all, aren't you working at home to avoid the rigidity of the office? Chill out.

I aim to work from home for two half-days a week now during teaching term. During the third trimester (June-August), I generally now work three days at home and only two days at the office. Since we moved to a communal office, I have had far less space to store my books, scores, and audio so had to invest in a lot of shelving for my flat. Now, if I want to look things up, I have to either be in a library or at home, and home is easiest. I want to talk about the pros and cons of a shared office another day, so I won't get into that now, but there are few things to say about home working.

  1. Determine some tasks that you want to accomplish during your day. Don't just let things drift along. It will be harder to motivate yourself unless you have clear goals and targets.
  2. Some tasks are better suited than others to home working. Make sure that you're doing them when you're working at home. Exactly which tasks these are will depend upon you, so think back to the last time you felt really productive at home. What were you doing? Now do the same for the office. This is a good indicator.
  3. Make space to work at home. As I write this, I am sat at my kitchen table which is covered with pieces of paper, a spare keyboard, a very large pad of graph paper, and a couple of books. There is not very much table space. This is bad. Don't be like me and work in clutter. Aim to work in clear space. This ties into point 1 and will help stop you getting distracted by other tasks.
  4. Try to keep a handle on how long you're working. There's nothing worse than feeling guilty about time spent away from your desk, and you will often punish yourself and spend more time at your desk to compensate. You wouldn't act like that at work, would you? Just keep track of how long your breaks are and aim to work for your scheduled hours every day (mine, excluding lunch of course, is a seven-hour day). At the end of this time, stop.
  5. Don't let work take over home. This addresses almost every one of those points above. I pursued this job because I love it, and I enjoy it, but I do aim to have a life sometime. I'm not saying that you shouldn't compose 'after hours' or read or whatever, but don't flog yourself. Try to make some time and space for life.
  6. Final point: your institution will probably have paperwork to cover them should an accident happen. Fill them in. It saves hassle in the long run, and forces you to address point 3 a bit more directly. I suspect that hardly anyone fills these forms in or knows what to do with them when someone else hands them one, but that's not the point.
There are plenty of other things to talk about today, including a new Universities minister (who has a PhD I note, as well as a lot of other things on his plate), and my own institution in the news regarding advertisements for zero-hours lecturers. I will probably return to these at a later date, but for today, I've mainly been thinking about what I think I can accomplish while working in a mess.

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Blogger Lauren said...

I'm really enjoying these posts, John! This is an interesting one for me at the moment because I decided to work at home most days during the summer. Partly this is because there are roughly the same number of people in my house as my office and partly because I think it is a quieter environment for research. When I was doing my PhD I always thought working at work was more productive, but now I see how easy it is to get sucked into admin tasks when research needs concentrated work for long stretches. I also see that I am failing on many of your pointers…must do better!

You already had quite a long list of topics, but I;d be interested in what you have to say on balancing (your own/your university's) research expectations with what is actually achievable; especially since we all seem to save up research for over the summer months.

11:25 AM  
Blogger harmonyharmony said...

Thanks Lauren!
For me, the whole process of writing this blog is an opportunity to interrogate my current practice and to see what I can improve. Life is a work in progress not an achieved publication! I am not (as I think I already indicated) very good at following my own pointers, but they're what I aspire to I suppose.

Definitely think that's a good topic to add to the list. Have wanted to talk about research extensively (as part of my 'integrated academic' agenda) and that gives a challenging slant to the whole question.

I hope you'll share your own thoughts on the question when it comes to it :)

12:24 PM  

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